A Fearful Avoidant Ex Vs. A Dismissive Avoidant Ex

Getting your ex’s attachment style right plays a very important role in getting them back. But when you are new to attachment styles, it can be had to tell the difference between a fearful avoidant and a dismissive avoidant ex. This seemingly “small mistake” can however significantly affect your chances of getting back an avoidant.

Fearful avoidants and dismissive avoidants both have an avoidant attachment style and share very many similar characteristics including highly independent, fear of getting too close, difficulty with sharing or expressing emotions, vulnerability and intimacy, tendency to withdraw or deactivate from relationship partners etc. But there are also significant differences between fearful avoidants and dismissive avoidants.

In this article, I discuss the 6 major differences between dismissive avoidants and fearful avoidants that impact your chances of getting them back.

1) Fearful vs dismissing attachment

Fearful avoidants and dismissive avoidants have fundamental differences in the way they perceive their experiences, view themselves, views others, think, feel and act in relationships. The simplest way to explain this difference between a fearful avoidant and a dismissive avoidant is:

A fearful avoidant’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours are mainly FEARFUL (conflicting desires, fears of rejection and abandonment, doubt, hesitation, indecision etc.)

A dismissive avoidant’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours are mainly DISMISSIVE (indifferent, unenthusiastic, minimizing, undervaluing, down playing, etc.).

There are overlaps especially with a fearful avoidant leaning dismissive, but in a nutshell, a fearful avoidant wants to be in a relationship but finds relationships difficult and frightening. A dismissive avoidant dismisses the need to be in a relationship and finds relationships low priority and restricting. Once you understand this major difference between FEAR and DISMISSING, you can see more clearly what strategy works to get a fearful avoidant ex back and what strategy will work for a dismissive avoidant ex. Everything else you read or watch on how to get back a fearful avoidant ex or dismissive avoidant ex will either make sense or not make sense.

2) Organized vs. disorganized strategies

Dismissive avoidants use “organized attachmentstrategies.

What this means is that their avoidant behaviours are steadier and do not significantly fluctuate over time. From the beginning, middle, end of the relationship and even post break-up, the relationship they are slow to warm up to someone and are mostly distant with no noticeable highs and lows mainly due to a dismissive avoidant’s “no drama” attitude, lack of “energy” when it comes to relationship maintenance and distancing most of the time.

Fearful avoidants use “disorganized attachment” avoidance strategies.

Meaning they are inconsistent and hard to predict. They move fast and are sometimes intense and also display a range of odd, fearful, contradictory, and conflicted behaviours that are inconsistent and unpredictable in the beginning, throughout the relationship and even after the break-up.

They approach others and take comfort in being close to someone but push away or run away from them creating an approach-withdraw or pull-push dynamic. However, Karlen Lyons-Ruth and colleagues (2013) observed that “52% of disorganized infants continue to approach the caregiver, seek comfort, and cease their distress without clear anxious or avoidant behaviour”. I don’t know if this applies to adult fearful avoidants as well, but I thought it was an interesting addition to the fearful avoidant attachment puzzle.

3) Attachment anxiety vs. attachment avoidance

Dismissive avoidants have high avoidance and low anxiety.

High attachment avoidance – They’re highly independent and have an intense discomfort with others getting too close and with intimacy, difficulty trusting others completely, difficult allowing themselves to depend on others, preference for self-reliance and use emotional distancing or deactivating strategies to self-regulate and/or feel safe.

Low attachment anxiety – They do not worry that others will reject, leave or abandon them because they’re genuinely comfortable being on their own.

Fearful avoidants have high avoidance and high anxiety. This is why they are called anxious avoidants.

High attachment avoidance – They can be highly independent and have an intense discomfort with others getting too close and with intimacy, difficulty trusting that others can be counted on, have difficult accepting support, use emotional distancing or deactivating strategies to self-regulate and/or feel safe.

High attachment anxiety – They long to feel close to their partners but are afraid to get close due to fears of rejection, being underappreciated, worry over losing a partner (abandonment). They are highly sensitive to signs that a partner is pulling away and need reassurance that this is not the case.

4) View of self  vs. view of partners

Dismissive avoidant have a positive view of themselves and a negative view of their partners (I’m OK, You’re Not OK).

What this looks like is that dismissive avoidants:

  • view themselves – as emotionally calm, rational, resilient etc.; and fully trust and rely on themselves
  • view their partners – as unreliable, can’t be depended or trusted
  • view relationships – as draining and not worth the effort or trouble; they’re happier alone

Generally, dismissive avoidants are self-assured, charming, self-controlled and seem to know exactly what they want and what to do to get what they want, but dismissive avoidants are also insensitive and indifferent to other’s feelings and experience, hesitant to give or receive compliments or feedback (positive or negative) and become unresponsive for days, weeks or months when slighted or inconvenienced in some way.

Fearful avoidants have a negative view of themselves and a negative view of their partners (I’m not OK, You’re Not OK).

What this looks like is that fearful avoidants:

  • view themselves – not good enough and don’t trust themselves to know or be capable of doing the right thing.
  • view their partners – can’t be trusted to be there when needed, will disappoint, reject or abandon them
  • view relationships – they all end with rejection and abandonment, it’s only a matter of time.

Generally, fearful avoidants can be sensitive and understanding but they’re also persistently negative in how they view themselves in relationships. Because they’re part anxious, fearful avoidants can be controlling and manipulative as away to manage fear or deal with uncertainty. Many fearful avoidants also suffer from social anxiety, depression, struggle with work-related stress, and/or have a substance abuse problem/or addiction. Most fearful avoidants also suffer from complex post traumatic stress disorder (cPTSD) resulting from emotional, physical or sexual trauma in their past.

5) Low vs. high relationship investment 

Dismissive avoidants generally invest little in a relationship.

They’re slow to attach to others and often take several months to years to get attached and years to move in with a romantic relationship partner. You can even be in a relationship with a dismissive avoidant for months but never get invited inside their space. From day one, they set boundaries on what you can and can’t do with their space and time, and don’t veer very far from “how things should be”. For example a dismissive avoidant says they are not ready/don’t want a relationship, or wants a friends with benefits situation, that’s how it’s going to be. They’re not going to send conflicting and mixed signals or step over their own boundaries and veer away from what they say they want.

Because of their low emotional investment in relationships, most dismissive avoidants aren’t as controlling or manipulative because that would require emotional investment and energy. And also because their low emotional investment in relationships, dismissive avoidant relationships often don’t last very long.

Fearful avoidants invest in a relationship in the beginning.

Depending on if they lean anxious or avoidant, a fearful avoidant can come on too strong (love bombing), attach very quickly, talk about the “future” within the first few dates and move in together in less than 3 months. If they lean avoidant, things may move a little slower, but fluctuate between getting too close and distancing.

Fearful avoidants also have people-pleasing tendencies which makes many of their behaviours seem confusing and conflicting. One day they say they’re drawing a boundary on no sexual intimacy or don’t want a relationship and the next, they’re grabbing you and kissing you passionately. They say they want space, want a break or want to break up, the very next day they send you texts saying they miss you, are still attracted to you or love you. It’s a complete brain-scratch, and emotional roller coaster ride.

They’re intense and show you they’re into you, but if they feel rejected, or feel that the relationship is one-sided, or feel constantly criticized or made to feel “not good enough”, they become distant, cold and even mean and revengeful.

5) Tumultuous vs. drama-free relationships

Dismissive avoidant relationships tend to be calm and stable with not much drama or highs and lows.

Even when they are angry dismissive avoidants are pretty calm or become visibly upset unless pushed way past their tolerance limits. The no drama pattern continues during and after a dismissive avoidant breakup. There is a sense of “extended quiet” or suspense with no (or very little) back and forth texts or emails after the break-up. Even a dismissive avoidant on-and-off relationship is drama free and in a weird way stable in that the “on” period lasts almost as long as the “off”  period. For example, you’re together for 3 – 4 months, then broken up for 4- 5 months, then back on again for 4- 5 months and then off for 3 -4 months.

While dismissive avoidant relationships are often calm and drama-free, they are also often “emotionless” and lack passion. The general feeling most people in a relationship with a dismissive avoidant have is “I THINK they love me. I THINK they care about me. But I FEEL like I’m in a relationship all by myself”. The attraction often doesn’t feel mutual and the effort to make the relationship work definitely doesn’t feel mutual even when a dismissive avoidant says they’re all in.

When you complain about their behaviour, you either get the “If you don’t like how I am leave” typical dismissive response or a dismissive avoidant just disappears out of your life. As far as most dismissive avoidants are concerned, complaining about their behaviours is asking them to be who they are not.

Some dismissive avoidants can adapt in greater or lesser degrees to different relationship dynamics or circumstances provided that things don’t deviate too much from their high level of independence, less demand of their time and space, the relationship being less volatile (less/no stress) and a partner who is consistently reliable and trustworthy.

Fearful avoidants tend to have a series of unstable, chaotic, on-and-off relationships that can be volatile and/or abusive.

A relationship with a fearful avoidant has many highs and many lows because of the disorganized attachment pull-push strategies;

  • “Come close… you’re suffocating me”
  • “I love you… I’m not sure how I feel”
  • “Love me… I don’t want a relationship”
  • “Leave me alone… wait, why are you abandoning me?”
  • “Do you miss me?…. Don’t t tell me, I don’t want to know” etc.

Even a fearful avoidant on-and-off relationship is chaotic and often impulsive. For example, you break-up then get back together immediately (or in relatively short period of time), but break up again soon after getting back together. You find that within a short period of time, you’ve broken up several times. In my experience, on average fearful avoidants have 3 or more on-and-off breakups a year.

The everyday impact of their disorganized attachment on a relationship varies from fearful avoidant to fearful avoidant – some exhibiting disorganized attachment behaviours occasionally and others too frequently but the general feeling you have in a relationship with a fearful avoidant is “I KNOW they love me. I KNOW they care about me. But Who am I in a relationship with?” Sometimes they’re loving, caring and seemingly secure, other times they’re anxious, needy and clingy, and can also be cold and/or lash out.

When you complain about their behaviour, most fearful avoidants get defensive. As far as a fearful avoidant is concerned they did their best to be a “good partner” and feel unappreciated. and sometimes they are right. Unlike dismissive avoidants, fearful avoidants can be available, responsive, affectionate, caring, and attentive (at first).

6) Cool and collected vs. conflicted post breakup behaviours

When you’re trying to figure out if your ex is a fearful avoidant or dismissive avoidant don’t just look at their behaviours after the breakup because many fearful avoidants lean dismissive after the break-up and tend to act like dismissive avoidants, cool and collected. Look at their behaviours from the start of the relationship, during the relationship, how they broke up and how they’re behaving after the break-up.

Dismissive avoidant behaviours don’t change much after the break-up

If after the breakup an avoidant’s behaviours remains either consistently cold and detached or still maintains contact but is consistently emotionally distant (e.g. acts like everything is normal between the two of you, wants to be friends but does not put in the effort to be friends, hits you up only when they want to hook-up etc.) your ex is likely a dismissive avoidant. Contrary to the idea that all dismissive avoidants “completely detach” after the breakup, dismissive avoidant are very good at compartmentalizing and carrying on like everything is normal, unless you push them too far and force them to react.

Fearful avoidant behaviours fluctuate after the break-up

If after the breakup an avoidant’s behaviours are all over the place (e.g. asking for no contact or going no contact then immediately contacts you, reaching out then stop responding, saying they miss you then pulling back when you say you miss them too, blocking then unblocking you, hovering your social media then disappearing or unfollowing and blocking access, agreeing to meet up then cancelling, saying you might get back together then backing away from what they said etc., your ex is likely a fearful avoidant. Fearful avoidant’s behaviours become even more inconsistent, confusing and disorganized after the break-up because breakups confirm their worst fears about relationships and about people who say they love them.

“Who is showing up today/this week?” is the  feeling you have when you’re trying to get back with a fearful avoidant ex, and it’s confusing and confounding because you don’t know what to expect, how to respond/behave or what to do. But it is also confusing to a fearful avoidant who wants to get close but is conflicted, confused, worried, and unsure if it’s what the really want, if they deserve love or closeness, if they can do relationships or even if they want to be in a relationship. They’ve learned that rejection, disappointment, and hurt in relationships are inevitable, and tend to behave in ways that set a self-fulfilling cycle in motion.

Like I said above, once you understand the difference between a fearful avoidant ex and a dismissive avoidant ex, you can see more clearly what works to get a fearful avoidant ex back and what will work to get back a dismissive avoidant ex. Not understanding these differences and just seeing both attachments as “avoidant” can significantly affect your chances.


Do Dismissive Avoidants Come Back After The Break Up?

How Fearful Avoidants Come Back – A Detailed Analysis

Did A Fearful Avoidant Develop Feelings And Pull Away?

12 Signs A Fearful Avoidant Ex Is Chasing You (And Why)

Why Getting Back A Dismissive Avoidant Takes So Long

5 Reasons Fearful Avoidant Exes Take Too Long To Come Back

20 Signs Your Ex A Narcissist Vs. Dismissive Avoidant Or Selfish

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